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Facts at a Glance
 Full name: The Canary Islands

Area: 7447 sq km (2904 sq mi)

Population: 1.605 million

Capital city: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (pop 356,000)

People: Spanish, North African, small Latin American and northern European communities

Language: Spanish

Religion: Roman Catholic

Government: Spanish autonomous region

Prime Minister: José María Aznar


Slightly smaller than the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, the Canary Islands consist of seven main islands and six islets, which are the tips of a vast volcanic mountain range lying beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Their nearest neighbour is Morocco, about 95km (59mi) east of Fuerteventura. The islands pack a huge variety of landscapes into a small area, including weird volcanic plateaus, cloud forest wreathed in mist, cliffs lashed by Atlantic squalls and green fields growing grapes and olives. Not to mention the block after block of apartments, international hotels and beaches coated in wall to wall holiday makers that are now as much a part of the Canaries as the natural attractions.

The volcanoes that form the islands' backbone saw the light of day at about the time the Atlas Mountains were formed in North Africa millions of years ago. The highest volcano, Tenerife's Teide at 3718m (12,195ft) is Spain's tallest peak and the third tallest volcano in the world after two in Hawaii. All the volcanic activity has ensured that the soil is very fertile, but there are no rivers and the islands have been periodically plagued by water shortages. Most of the drinking water on some islands comes straight from desalination plants.

The varied altitude and rich volcanic soils have combined to create several biological treasures in the Canaries. About half of the islands' 2000 plant species are endemic, including the Canary Island palm, the Canary pine and the dragon tree, an ancient survivor that thrived before the last ice age. Microclimates in the islands allow for great variation in vegetation, from the UNESCO declared world heritage sites of

Theoretically, the Canary Islands are one of the most extensively protected territories in Europe, with 42% of the the land mass falling under some category of park land. The four national parks are the Parque Nacional de las Cañadas del Teide, with Teide volcano as its centrepiece; the Parque Nacional de Garajonay, with a beautiful ancient rainforest; the Parque Nacional de Timanfaya, with active volcanoes; and Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente, which encloses an enormous eroded rock cauldron. The Parques Naturales form the second most extensive tier of parks, but they've generally seen a greater level of human intrusion, such as villages, farms and roads, than the national parks.

The Canaries bask in an eternal-spring climate, with mean temperatures ranging from 18°C (64°F) in winter to 24°C (75°F) in summer. On a hot day at the beach, it can still be pleasantly cool if you get up into the mountains, and you'll definitely need warm clothes if you reach any high altitudes during the winter. Except for Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the northern side of the islands is sub-tropical, while the south, including the first two mentioned islands, is drier and slightly warmer. There is not much rain except on parts of the windswept northern coasts, and what there is tends to fall on the northern side of the more mountainous islands. The flatter islands, with no mountains to trap rain clouds, receive hardly a drop of rain. On occasion, especially in summer, the

Economic Profile
 GDP: US$219 million

GDP per head: US$ $14,000

Annual growth: 3.5%

Inflation: 4.3%

Major industries: Tourism.

Major trading partners: France, Germany, Italy

Member of EU: yes

Euro zone participant: yes

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: Spain (of which the Canaries are a part) along with Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal, forms part of the border-free travel zone known as the Schengen Area. US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and Israeli citizens are among those who may enter the Canary Islands as tourists without a visa and stay up to 90 days. EU passport holders can come and go as they please.

Health risks: The worst you are likely to get is a hangover or digestive problems if you're not used to olive oil in cooking. No vaccinations required unless you have come from a yellow fever infected area - check with your local Spanish embassy.


Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz.

Weights & measures: Metric

Money & Costs
 Currency:Peseta (pta)
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$3-5
  • Mid-range: US$5-20
  • Top-end: US$20+

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$20-30
  • Mid-range: US$30-50
  • Top-end: US$50+
  • Daily living costs are marginally lower than those in Europe, and budget travellers could manage on about US$40 a day. You would have to share rooms at the cheapest

    You're best off carrying your money as travellers cheques and plastic, with plastic probably nudging ahead as the best way to spend. There are plenty of exchange offices throughout the islands, and most hard currencies are widely accepted, although the New Zealand dollar could pose problems. It's not a bad idea to get your cheques in large amounts, at least the equivalent of 10,000 ptas, to save on per-cheque commission charges. Major brands of credit cards are widely accepted, and if you can, try to take more than one card, and try to keep them separate in case of theft or loss.

    Tipping is a matter of personal choice in restaurants. If you're satisfied with the service, leave some small change - 5% is usually plenty. The only places you may be able to bargain are markets, although even there fixed prices are generally the rule. You may be able to bargain in some cheap hotels, where you

    When to Go

    Go whenever - the weather is great year-round. December to February are the islands' busiest months, bringing the thickest crowds and higher prices. Being winter, the weather is also slightly cooler. The best value on airfares is offered from November to mid-December and even better, March to May (with the exception of the Easter rush).

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